Sunday, 16 October 2016

Artillery in Wargames

In March I mentioned on the blog that we were introducing limited artillery firing in our games.   Each game is 12 moves long, and we reduced to 6 the number of times artillery could fire.

The effect of this small rule change has surprised us both.   It has caused us both to rethink how we handle a wargame.   It has also made our games much more enjoyable.

The downside of only wargaming with one opponent, and in doing so most days over many years, is that games can become predictable.   This is particularly so when games are as stylised as ours tend to be.  All of our games are from the campaign.   The tables are always the same size.  The armies are balanced.  

Previously the defender had a huge advantage in artillery.   He could afford to open fire as soon as the attacker came into range.   He could then fire each move, with the effect increasing as the attacker moved closer.   Even if the attacker kept his infantry and artillery out of range whilst advancing his guns to prepare for the attack, the defender could fire every move.   It did not matter if counter battery fire was ineffective, there was no disadvantage to doing so.

On the other hand the attacker was at a considerable disadvantage.   If he started at the edge of the table, as he often did, he would have to spend four moves deploying his army to attack.  Two of these moves would have his guns, at least in artillery range of the defender.

He would then have four moves to fire on the enemy.   So at move 8 the defender would have fired 6 times, the attacker only 4 times.   Worse was to come.

In order to deliver the attack, the infantry and cavalry would have to mask the guns, at least in part.   Worse still, as they moved into close range they were more likely to receive heavier casualties.  It was pretty well impossible to move the attacking guns into close range.

Reducing the total artillery fire from 12 to 6 has completely changed our tactics.  Or at least made them more even.   The attacker still takes 2 or 3 moves to deploy.  But he can now fire at long range on the enemy

The effect of the rule change is that we are both much more cautious in using artillery in the early stages of the game.   The defender tends to avoid firing at least until the infantry is in range.   The attacker plans the battle to allow at least four, and if possible, six rounds firing.

However we are still left with one problem.   Casualties amongst cavalry and gunners have always been high, compared with infantry.   Worst still, gunners often tend to rout from the battle and in doing so abandon their guns.   In a campaign this has serious effects.

So the next task will be consider how to avoid so many gunner routs.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Winter Is Coming

Those of you who have read "Game of Thrones", or indeed watched it on TV, will be aware of the expression "Winter Is Coming".   It refers to the end of the pleasant summer life style and the start of the ill fated winter, with the threat of death, destruction and the end of the world as we know it.   Well its not quite as bad as that here in Spain.   But it does indicate big changes in our daily routine.

October is the month when we change from our summer to winter routine.  

Being retired we are in the happy position of being able to do what we want, when we want.   Our two main interests are wargaming and hill walking.   In June, July, August and September it is much too hot to do any hill walking, so we spend more time on wargame related projects.  

Over the past four or five years this has mainly been our PBEM campaign or making scenery.   We finished the PBEM campaign in February.   We completed our last planned model (a coaching inn) last month.  

Fortunately we are now back into our walking season.   Since we retired to Spain in 2006 we have walked each Monday with a small group of likeminded friends.   These are day walks of about 12 km, and have long been a regular part of our weekly routine.  

Last year we started a similar group in our local U3A.   We need a core group of at least six regular walkers, but have struggled to find and keep sufficient numbers.   There are two other walking groups, both do morning walks of about three hours.   One always has lunch afterwards.  Both are very popular, and clearly most of the U3A members would prefer these shorter walks.

Most of our current members live in UK, but have holiday homes here in Spain.  So they visit for a month or so two or three times a year.   So we are trying to recruit more regular members who are available all year around.   The past week we have been busy preparing a display for our U3A Open Day on Thursday.   It was very popular and we had thirteen members asking for more details.   So we are hopeful that we can add to our core numbers.

What has all of this to do with wargaming you may well ask.

Simply that wargaming has taken second place in our activities.   The solo campaign has produced two battles to wargame.  So there is no map movement to keep me busy.   We have been distracted by preparations for the walking season, and time spent at the wargames table has suffered.

I often find that the less you do the less you want to do.    Since the end of our PBEM campaign the pressure to wargame two or three battles at a time has disappeared.   To be honest it was becoming too much of a chore.   But the abrupt end of pressure has resulted in a loss of interest in wargaming in general.   The end of our model making projects has added to this feeling.

Fortunately we have much less time to spend on wargaming in autumn, winter and spring.   But I do feel that I will need to find a new project to inject some enthusiasm into our wargame routine.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Size matters

British Army of four corps

I am often surprised that so much attention is paid to ratio and scale by Napoleonic wargamers.   On the various forum I visit a high proportion of the post is about the “best” scale of figure to wargame or paint.   Another favourite is the “best” number of figures to represent a battalion or brigade.

There are often heated exchanges about how many 28mm figures best represent a battalion, which usually seems to mean how many do you need to “look like” a battalion.  

My experience of wargaming goes back almost 50 years.   In the early years no one seemed to worry too much about how many figures make a battalion.  There was much less choice in wargame rules, and no one seemed to take themselves as seriously as they do now.  There were very few “experts” around, and those who were stressed the fun or game element, rather than try to recreate actual battlefields on the wargame table.  

In the 1970s size began to matter more.   I suspect that Wargames Illustrated and Peter Guilder were largely responsible.   Who did not admire the coloured photographs of the large tables stuffed with masses of figures at the Wargames Centre.

Peter also gave us In The Grand Manner wargame rules.   These declared that an infantry battalion would be represented by 32 or 36 model soldier.   They looked great in the magazine, and we all wanted to recreate that impression in our wargames.   Unfortunately few of us had a 36x6 foot table to wargame on.

I built myself a 12x6 foot table in my garage and painted a lot of figures to provide the 36 figure battalions.   I formed a small group to help me fight the wargames.  And for a good ten years or so was perfectly happy with the result.

Then came the 1980s, and more and more articles about scale and size of armies.   I had known from the start that most Napoleonic battles consisted of multi corps armies.   Very few were between single corps, and almost none between less than a corps per side.

I also knew that though corps varied greatly in size and composition, they were usually about 20,000 to 30,000 men each.   At least two thirds of each corps were infantry, and each infantry battalion had a field strength of about 500.   So each corps would have approximately 14,000 to 20,000 infantry.   If 36 figures represented 500 men, you would need at least 1,000 model soldiers to represent each corps. 

Guilder himself obviously struggled with this problem.   I recall wargaming Leipzig and Waterloo at Scarborough, and noting that his army orders of battle reduced each corps to four or six battalions, rather than the historical 10 to 30 battalions.   There was no mention of divisions or brigades in the order of battle.

I also recall that whilst it was a great experience handling such large numbers of model soldiers on such impressive terrain, it was also very tiring.   You required large teams of players to play Leipzig or Waterloo, and even then they were confused and exhausting games to play.   Very impressive but, for me at least, not very enjoyable.

Throughout the 1990 I struggled to come to terms with this problem.  I tried 6mm figures, but even at that scale the numbers were huge.  I found painting 6mm figures very difficult and boring.   On the table they looked good, but were difficult to keep track of and move around.  

15mm were a compromise, but still required far too many figures to field one corps per side, let alone multi corps.   They were easier to paint, but I still preferred my 28mm figures.

It was only when we retired and moved to Spain that I finally came to terms with this problem of scale.   I realised that I could never make a corps out of 36 figure battalions, or even the more popular 12 figure battalions, fit on my 6x6 foot table. 

I decided to make multi corps armies out of the figures already on my shelf.   And make each corps small enough to fit two armies of four corps on my 6x6 foot table.   Having made this decision the rest followed very smoothly.

Each 36 figure battalion became four 8 figure brigades.   This would represent two divisions of two brigades.   Each 36 figure battalion became one corps of four brigades.

Over the next ten years I developed the wargame and campaign rules to allow me to fight wargames using this basic principle.   We wargame almost every day, and both the rules and campaign have stood the test of time.

I am sure that many will think that 8 figures do not “look like” a brigade of 4000 men, and of course they are absolutely correct.   But then again 36 figures to not “look like” a battalion of 500 men.

It is, as with most things in life, all a matter of compromise.